Saturday, June 03, 2023

Bruen's Goose Does Apply to the Gander

I hate on the Eighth Circuit a lot on this blog -- prerogative of a former clerk -- but one thing I do like about it is that it has largely abjured the over-long, meandering, 100-page for every opinion trend of its sister circuits. The typical Eighth Circuit opinion is, as these things go, short, sweet, and easily digestible. Occasionally this means that some important issues or arguments I believe that deserve parsing in detail get short-changed, but more often than not it simply means they're avoiding navel-gazing and padding.

Yesterday, the Eighth Circuit filed an interesting decision in United States v. Jackson* involving the Second Amendment's applicability to restrictions on gun ownership by non-violent felons. Coming in at a compact 16 pages (8 of which are on other issues), it's easily read by the lay person. But what makes Jackson noteworthy, in my view, is that it expressly avoids a pitfall of the post-Bruen Second Amendment world that I've seen afflict conservative courts and commenters alike. Namely: it recognizes that Bruen's prohibition on means-ends analysis, and treatment of history as the be-all-end-all, applies just as much where the history licenses greater gun restrictions as when it licenses fewer such restrictions.

Quite a few conservative actors have, after happily citing Bruen's history-is-all-that-matters test, turned around and been aghast at the idea that a given historical interpretation might license more gun control than they, personally, are comfortable with or think is defensible as a policy matter. These objections have been leveled with respect to laws that bar persons previously subject to mental health orders from owning firearms (without a showing that they are currently mentally ill) and laws which bar persons subject to domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms (even without a conviction). In both cases, the complaint was that even to the extent there arguably was historical precedent supporting laws like this (not perfect analogues, of course, but Bruen expressly disclaims the need for a "twin"), the practical consequences of applying those precedents to a case like this would be unreasonable or unfair as a matter of gun policy -- precisely the sort of reasoning that Bruen purports to take off the table.

Jackson, which is about prohibitions on gun ownership by non-violent felons, raises similar issues. It may be "unreasonable" to ban persons convicted of non-violent drug offenses, with no showing that they are in a meaningful sense "dangerous", from possessing firearms. But those arguments have no place in a Bruen world, which exclusively asks what the historical record does and does not permit. And unlike many, Jackson gets this right. It observed:

To be sure, the historical understanding that legislatures have discretion to prohibit possession of firearms by a category of persons such as felons who pose an unacceptable risk of dangerousness may allow greater regulation than would an approach that employs means-end scrutiny with respect to each individual person who is regulated. But that result is a product of the method of constitutional interpretation endorsed by Bruen

Indeed, governments appear to have more flexibility and power to impose gun regulations under a test based on text, history, and tradition than they would under strict scrutiny. After all, history and tradition show that a variety of gun regulations have co-existed with the Second Amendment right and are consistent with that right, as the Court said in Heller. By contrast, if courts applied strict scrutiny, then presumably very few gun regulations would be upheld.

Heller v. District of Columbia, 670 F.3d 1244, 1274 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (Kavanaugh, J., dissenting). Cf. Kanter v. Barr, 919 F.3d 437, 465 (7th Cir. 2019) (Barrett, J., dissenting) (concluding before Bruen that Congress cannot dispossess felons based solely on status, and that “a very strong public-interest justification and a close means-end fit” is required before a felon may be subject to a dispossession statute based on dangerousness) (quoting Ezell v. City of Chicago, 846 F.3d 888, 892 (7th Cir. 2017)).

This does not, to be clear, make Bruen a good rule. In many ways, it demonstrates its arbitrariness. But at least correctly applied, Bruen both gives and takes away when it comes to gun regulations. Where the historical record permits a type of gun restriction, legislatures are allowed to impose it no matter how ridiculous or outrageous it might appear. Where the record does not license a type of gun restriction, legislatures are forbidden from utilizing it no matter how essential or necessary it might be. That is not a good rule. But at least its randomness may lash out equally.

* There's no such thing as a "liberal" panel on the Eighth Circuit, but this panel was not an especially liberal one. The opinion was authored by Judge Colloton (viewed for many years as a SCOTUS contender for a Republican President), joined by Judge Benton and Chief Judge Smith. All three judges were Republican appointees (unsurprising, given that only one judge on the entire circuit is a Democratic appointee).

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Four Thoughts on the CUNY Law Affair

Yes, I've heard about "that" graduation speech at CUNY Law. I'm not interested in parsing it; I have better things to do with my time. But I do want to share four thoughts about some of the broader issues in play and the (expectedly less-than-stellar) metacommentary.

First, CUNY's board of trustees has come out with a statement averring that "Hate speech ... should not be confused with free speech" and declaring that the graduation remarks fall into the latter category. Face palm. In the context of a public university, which CUNY is, "hate speech" most certainly is free speech, and retains all constitutional protections assigned to the latter. It astounds me that we still see statements like this on controversies like this when the constitutional rules are so clear. There is absolutely no cause to argue that the speaker's remarks are anything other than speech protected by the First Amendment, no matter how hateful one does or does not deem them to be.

Second, CUNY Law, probably more than any law school in the country (including Berkeley), is a citadel of the hard left. Its student body and, to a slightly lesser extent, faculty is very much self-selected to fit within this well-to-the-left-of-the-Democratic-Party-median mold. Is that a problem? This raises the classic question of diversity within institutions versus diversity across institutions -- it's okay, or perhaps even valuable, that there exist some law schools that are self-consciously hard left in orientation, so long as it is one option on a larger menu. Maybe CUNY Law is just the Regent University or Liberty University Law School of the left. You want a self-consciously conservative Christian experience, you go to Liberty. You want a self-consciously left-wing activist experience, you go to CUNY. Other schools offer different choices. There is a long and proud tradition of the "liberal" education that tries to draw from as wide a range of views and perspectives as possible; but there's an equally long and proud tradition of an education that is intentionally imbricated within a deep and specific intellectual and ideological framework (a religious college is the most prominent example). At the very least, it is not self-evident that we think the latter sort of initiative is always wrong -- at least so long as the prospective law school applicant has other choices.

Is this actually good? Does it matter that CUNY is a public law school? Does it matter that it's a public law school in a generally liberal city? Does it matter that, even in the context of a generally liberal city, CUNY Law is far off to the left of the mainstream? Open questions, as far as I'm concerned.

Third, CUNY Law's Jewish Law Student Association has strongly come out in defense of the graduate speaker and against the public backlash. This is in accord with the CUNY JLSA's larger orientation on issues like this (anti-Zionist, pro-BDS, and so on), and it seems reasonably clear that it represents the consensus view of Jewish students at CUNY Law (which again, is a very particular and self-selecting bunch). Given this, it is fair to note that there is something very odd about people racing to "protect" Jewish students from "antisemitism" that the students themselves not only don't identify as antisemitic, but actively support. Who exactly is being helped here?

One could answer that by referencing the potential Jewish students who would be interested in a CUNY Law experience but are deterred or forced out because they do find the environment to be unbearable (I am aware of at least some Jewish students leaving CUNY Law, or not applying in the first place, for precisely that reason).* In such a situation, the rump remainder of Jewish students who are perfectly happy with that environment will be all that remains, but the resultant "consensus" is not really properly characterized as innocent. Again, this could be reframed as a diversity-within-versus-across-institutions issue, though: maybe it's good that there is one school where anti-Zionist Jews are the dominant Jewish faction; so long as the Zionist Jewish majority has other options. Or maybe not. I do think the core puzzle of "opposing antisemitism" at a given institution over and against the objection of the Jews who are actually present there is at the very least an oddity that people need to wrestle with.

Fourth, many people are contending that the harshly critical response to the speaker constitutes "Islamophobia." For any individual remark or "criticism", that will of course depend on its content. But insofar as we're talking about, e.g., Rep. Ritchie Torres ("Imagine being so crazed by hatred for Israel as a Jewish State that you make it the subject of your commencement speech at a law school graduation. Anti-Israel derangement syndrome at work.") or Mayor Eric Adams ("I was proud to offer a different message at this year’s CUNY law commencement ceremony — one that celebrates the progress of our city and country, and one that honors those who fight to keep us safe and protect our freedoms.... We cannot allow words of negativity and divisiveness to be the only ones our students hear."), it's really hard to warrant the charge of Islamophobia unless you're willing to endorse a (dare I say it?) IHRA-style understanding of what "discrimination" is.

There's little in the way of evidence that Adams or Torres object to what the speaker said because she's a Muslim (and would have been fine with it if she was Christian). And one can of course already hear the classic retorts, remixed: "Criticism of anti-Israelism is not Islamophobia!" "Don't conflate opposition to Israel with Islam!" Given that, the warrant for the Islamophobia claim, it seems, has to be some version or combination of arguments like (a) taken as a whole, the intensity and vitriol of the blowback are disproportionate to a degree that they can be held to function in practice as a form of anti-Muslim hostility; and/or (b) pro-Palestinian sentiments are sufficiently tied to many Muslims sense of religious identity so as to make attempts at silencing or degrading said views tantamount to silencing an important facet of this speaker's Muslim identity; and/or (c) public "criticism" of this sort is part of a pattern or practice of social conditions which practically speaking operate as policing mechanisms that limit Muslim public participation and license their anti-Muslim harassment and discrimination.

Those arguments may well have purchase. But they're exactly the sorts of arguments which, in the context of IHRA and related debates over antisemitism, are alleged to be "censorial", "conflating", "chilling", and otherwise inappropriate in their alleged failure to distinguish between "criticism of Israel" (whether warranted or not) and "antisemitism." Here, the same failure could be alleged: failing to distinguish between "criticism of anti-Israel" (whether warranted or not) and "Islamophobia". And that alleged "failure" could similarly be met with a rejoinder that this too-pat response overlooks the realities of the situation and the practical impact this sort of speech and conduct has a means of impeding the equal public status and standing of Muslims, just as that rejoinder is leveled in the antisemitism case.

To be clear: this is a classic "everyone is a hypocrite" complaint. The anti-IHRA people, when the topic is Islamophobia, are happy to make claims that in the antisemitism context they'd label "chilling", "silencing", or "conflating". And the pro-IHRA people just as suddenly are unwilling to accept logic like this to the extent that it might require seriously reckoning with the prospect that their own speech or conduct can be labeled Islamophobic. If we understand why this speaker could interpret the backlash as Islamophobic, we should be able to understand how Jewish speakers might interpret certain vitriolically anti-Israel speech as antisemitic, and vice versa. For my part, I've long held that it's entirely possible for "dueling" discrimination charges to both be at least in part justified (see this post, and pages 161-63 of "The Epistemic Dimension of Antisemitism" for discussion), and so -- without commenting on the merits of either charge in this case -- it is fully possible in concept both that the way the speaker spoke was antisemitic AND that the way the broader community responded to the speech was Islamophobic (or that neither claim is sustainable, or that only one is).

* When I was on the job market, I did submit an application to CUNY Law in a year where they were looking to hire a constitutional law professor. I did not receive an interview, and, in retrospect, I think CUNY Law would have been a very uncomfortable place for me given my identity and the research that I engage in.

Monday, May 29, 2023

How To Hack The Law

Do you ever idly puzzle through various ideas for a "perfect crime"? It's awkward to talk about -- you don't actually want to do them, you don't actually want to give anyone a bright idea, but they're still so interesting to think through.

The legal community is abuzz with the story of a lawyer who relied on ChatGPT to do his research and submitted a brief filled with entirely invented cases. ChatGPT just made them up out of air -- complete with names, citations and quotes -- and the lawyer dutifully added them to the brief. When opposing counsel tried to read the cases for themselves, they were baffled because they couldn't find any trace of them. The presiding judge went so far as to contact the clerk of the courts where the cases were allegedly filed, confirming their non-existence. Now the lawyer is facing sanctions; he is begging for mercy on the grounds that he had no idea ChatGPT would lie to him like that.

I know of very few lawyers who have sympathy for this lawyer. But imagine a slightly different case. Let's say that LexisNexis developed a glitch where it invented a case. If you typed in the (invented) citation to the case, it would pop up on Lexis the same as any other case -- name, judge panel, court, reasoning, everything. But the case isn't real; it was a complete invention. If a lawyer came across such a "hallucinated" decision on Lexis, I think we'd be very forgiving if she ended up being deceived and relied on the case in her briefs. Indeed, I actually wonder, in a situation, like this, how long it would take the legal community to figure out that the case wasn't real.

For example: the last case contained in volume 500 of the Federal Reporter (3d) is Jacobsen v. DOJ, 500 F.3d 1376 (Fed. Cir. 2007). That case ends on page 1381. Suppose an enterprising criminal hacks the Westlaw and Lexis database* and adds another case, call it Smith v. Jones, cited to 500 F.3d 1382. To further cover her tracks, the criminal "assigns" the case to a panel of judges who are no longer active on the court, to make it less likely one of them will see it and be like "I don't remember that decision." Smith v. Jones, of course, can be about and say whatever the criminal (or the unscrupulous lawyer who hired her) wants it to. Need a precedent that appears to decisively resolve a contested point of law in your favor? Voila -- the new case of Smith v. Jones is there to meet your needs. Indeed, the diligent criminal could add one or two new precedents per volume on a range of topics, providing bespoke "new" precedent to shift the legal terrain on an array of different issues.

If this happened, again I ask: how long would it take for the legal community to figure it out? If the initial hack was undetected, could one get away with doing this? Certainly, there would still be ways to confirm the cases are not real. If one back-checked the cases back to the clerk's office, one would discover they're vapor -- but realistically, that almost never happens. We take Lexis and Westlaw as proof enough; I'm not sure I can imagine a circumstance where I would try to confirm the veracity of a case I saw on Westlaw or Lexis by contacting the clerk's office. There probably would be some other hints that the cases were suspect -- the lack of citations from other cases would be a significant hint that something is shady -- but I can imagine a crime like this slipping by us for some time. And the longer it goes unnoticed, the more these cases have the opportunity to subtly adjust the overall trajectory of law in a new direction.

It's a scary thought, no? We're very reliant on the robustness and reliability of online databases. If they start to falter, we run into seriously trouble very quickly.

* Note: I assume -- and desperately hope -- that this is difficult-to-impossible to do.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

If You Add an "e" and Take Away "alist" That Spells Globe!


If you asked me to write a parody of what folks bleating on about DEI indoctrination sound like, I couldn't do a better job than how Georgia Republican Kandiss Taylor's rants about "globes".

No, not "globalists". Globes. As in, the earth being round. Seriously:

“All the globes, everywhere” Taylor said later in the discussion. “I turn on the TV, there’s globes in the background … Everywhere there’s globes. You see them all the time, it’s constant. My children will be like ‘Mama, globe, globe, globe, globe’ — they’re everywhere.”

“That’s what they do, to brainwash,” she added. “For me if it’s not a conspiracy. If it is real, why are you pushing so hard everywhere I go? Every store, you buy a globe, there’s globes everywhere. Every movie, every TV show, news media — why? More and more I’m like, it doesn’t make sense.”

Listen, she just wants to have a debate. What are they afraid of? 

The Debate Link: Origins

This blog is called The Debate Link.

That's no accident.

I started this blog when I was eighteen, just after graduation, when debate was the activity that most defined my high school experience. It was something I did nearly every weekend for four years, travelling all across the country. I was nationally-ranked. I won tournaments at both the local and national level. I wasn't just a "debater". I was, if I do say so myself, a pretty elite debater.

This blog was in many ways a continuation of that experience, and an attempt to fill its void. Its initial tagline was "The arguments, made by and for the debating public." In fact, here's my very first post, from way back in 2004:

Hey everyone! My name is David, and I am an ex-debater from Bethesda MD. My 4 years of debate has given me a healthy appreciation of the issues that concern America, and a desire to share some of the better arguments on some those issues I've come accross during those years. So hopefully, whenever I come up with a good idea (or stumble across someone else's), I'll post it on here.

See you soon,


(How adorable was I? Seriously.)

It is impossible to overstate the degree to which high school debate was formative in my life. It taught me how to think. It taught me how to write. It generated friendships that persist to this day. It even, indirectly, made me realize I wanted to be a law professor. There are few facets of David Schraub 2023 that are not in some way traceable to David Schraub, high school debater.

High school debate is having a moment in the news, prompted by this article by James Fishback chronicling an alleged takeover of the events by the radical left. I want to comment on his piece and his allegations, as well as on some commentary given by Kristen Soltis Anderson, who I knew and competed against in my generation of debate.

There are few reasons to read Fishback's account with grains of salt, beyond the obvious fact that he is at the helm of an insurgent competitor to the established National Speech and Debate Association (formerly known as the National Forensics League) and so has a vested incentive in undermining it.

First, whenever I read accounts like this about craziness allegedly afflicting student-centered activities, I always ask myself "what are the students saying?" Do the actual students involved share the perception that high school debate is rotting from the inside out? Or is their view that these accounts are misleading, exaggerated, and not reflective of what's actually happening on the ground? I certainly remember from my student days how frequent it was that I'd read breathless accounts about "what was going on" at my school or in my club or on my campus that bore zero relationship to what I actually saw. Once I was no longer a student, I still tried to remember that experience -- how many times have the "adults" parachuted in to "solve" problems at schools or on campus in cases where the actual putative victims have been screaming "you are not helping!" The older I get, the harder it will be to remember that instinct, but for the moment I can still rage against the dying of the light. And to that end, it is notable that Fishback's post contains very little in the way of contemporary student commentary or support indicating that they share his view about either the gravity or ubiquity of the problems he identifies -- a failure which makes me profoundly skeptical of whether he's accurately describing the underlying reality.

Second, I also remember to beware of apocryphal anecdotes. I doubt there has ever been a generation of debaters that didn't have stories about the lurid, ridiculous, extreme-performative arguments that supposedly were winning rounds left and right. In my generation, I distinctly recall a story circulating about a debater who simply wrote "Rwanda. Rwanda. Rwanda." on the board over and over again in their first speech (on any topic) as some sort of commentary on the moral intolerability of engaging in regular debate in the face of genocide. Trading the story across the lunch table, that debater cleaned up at elite tournaments. In retrospect, I can't say I ever recall actually seeing a round that was anything like that -- and I both witnessed and participated in many elite-level debate rounds. Stories are stories.

All of that said, I can't fully accuse Fishback of nutpicking. The "Marxist-Leninist-Maoist" judge that opens his story was a collegiate debate champ, and so can't be dismissed as a complete non-entity. For recent graduates who are looking back on their competition-days, it is very, very easy to miss "having the ball in your hands"; to think on the arguments you would have made now that you're (slightly) older and (arguably) wiser, and live out that saudade for being a competitor by turning the act of judging into "what would I have argued." It's easy, but it's not good, and it takes the event away from the people who are actually competing in it. There's no such thing, in my view, as a debate where only one side is allowed to show up, and judges who functionally make that demand are toxic to the enterprise.

At the same time, the problem in debate of bad judges is an eternal one. And I have sympathy for the NSDA here, because it's actually a really difficult problem to regulate. It's unfeasible for the NSDA at a national level to actually police the judging styles and capacities of hundreds if not thousands of judges at tournaments across the country (which is one reason why the norm has shifted to disclosure -- we can't control if your judge is good, but you can at least know what their paradigm is). And for obvious reasons, the NSDA does not want to open the door to ad hoc challenges of particular judging decisions on general claims of "unfairness" -- that way lies anarchy (particularly when you're dealing with debaters, who always can come up with reasons why their losses are unfair!). In reality, much like Supreme Court ethics rules, there's probably not much that the NSDA can do other than vaguely promote norms of fairness and hope for the best.

Indeed, in many ways the problem with debate judges is not so different than the problem with Article III judges. There's little that's more frustrating than the sense that the judge in front of you has rigid ideological commitments that will prevent them from fairly assessing your arguments no matter what you do. That frustration is multiplied by the fact that, if they do act in that abusive fashion, there's little in the way of recourse -- we can't get rid of bad, biased Article III judges and, practically speaking, we can't get rid of bad, biased debate judges. The same mechanisms that ensure an independent judiciary and facilitate the orderly administration of justice by not allowing every unpopular decision to be second-guessed also provide a near-impenetrable suit of armor for hacks and incompetents alike if they do manage to get through the door. That is, to reiterate, insanely frustrating. But there's no straightforward resolution to it.

The reality is that the political demographics of both the most common participants in debate (publicly-engaged 14-18 year olds) and the most common judges of those debates (publicly-engaged 18-24 year olds) means that debate will almost inevitably slant to the left. Again, that's not something that can easily be fixed short of manually changing people's political opinions. We hold our opinions because we're persuaded by them; so it's inevitable that the arguments we tend to find persuasive are more likely to be the one's resonant with our opinions. That tendency can be checked, but it probably can't be overcome entirely. 

But to some extent, the focus on "liberal" versus "conservative" ideas in high school debate to my mind reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what debate is -- and overlooks one of its most valuable features. 

It's natural for an outsider to think that high school debate, insofar as it touches on politically salient issues, naturally divides itself into contemporary liberal and conservative divides. If the topic is a resolution on, say, foreign aid, one participant will lay out roughly what you might hear on the subject from a Democratic Senator, the other, from a Republican House member. But, at least when I was competing, this was rarely what happened. Debate tackled issues from a multitude of different perspectives and angles that rarely, if ever, neatly tracked contemporary partisan divisions. Despite the seeming binary imposed by pro/con, affirmative/negative, the lived reality of debate transcended these narrow divisions.

And this is a good thing. The purpose of debate is not to give competitors a working understanding of and fluency in what arguments are currently circulating in the halls of Congress. Debaters are not there to parrot the arguments that one most commonly hears on CNN or Fox News. The purpose of debate is to give competitors the tools to think creatively about their own arguments, to try to make those arguments as strong as possible, and to assess and defend them against any range of potential responses. It is perhaps a sad commentary on politics that a focus on strong arguments means that the resulting product will typically have little bearing on the actual contemporary disputes over liberal versus conservative politics. But that's how it goes. Moreover, it is entirely possible to have a productive, valuable debate round where both competitors basically accept liberal, or conservative, or Marxist priors and then argue "what's the best way of doing X from within that framework?" That sort of debate also teaches people how to critically assess and defend positions, just as effectively as debate rounds that more expressly cut across classic ideological paradigms. It is far too narrow, and constrains the vision of young debaters, to try to limit them to thinking purely within the well-worn grooves of American party politics.

And that brings me, in conclusion, to some of Kristen's comments. Kristen admits that, in contrast to Fishback's presentation, it does not seem like (in her recent experience) conservative ideas have been locked out of high school debate. And even when it comes to the specific conservative bugaboo of the day -- DEI initiatives -- much of the content the NSDA is promoting is entirely reasonable and salutary. Kristen remembers judges criticizing her and other female competitors for their "shrill" or "squeaky" voices; I remember a major tournament official repeatedly and openly -- as in, when making public announcements of awards -- engaging in homophobic taunting of one of my friends (he would repeatedly mispronounce the name of the student -- who was a regular top-tier competitor and absolutely known to the organizer -- so one of the syllables in his name was spoken as "gay", when the syllable in question was pronounced "guy"). If those sorts of practices are being arrested, it's all for the better.

But Kristen is concerned about some of the things that are listed as potential examples of DEI-related debate topics (inside the NSDA website's section on inclusivity). To be clear, it seems evident that the NSDA is suggesting that tournaments include some of these topics as part of the tournament's overall package, not to exclusively draw from them. But within this subcategory, Kristen thinks that the questions possess a liberal slant -- a problem even if (as is naturally the case in a debate context) people will inevitably be encouraged to take both "pro" and "con" positions.

Reading these topics, I understand why they're thought to be coded as liberal. At the same time, for at least a good quotient of them, it makes me sad that they are coded as liberal. Consider the question "Why are there so few startups founders who identify as women in the United States?" On the one hand, I get why this question seems to be "liberal". On the other hand, why is this question coded as liberal? Can it really be the case that conservatives don't have thoughts on this matter -- or at least thoughts they're not embarassed to share? When did conservatives decide that the only thought a conservative is permitted to think on this sort of question is "don't ask it"?

The students who answer this sort of question are not, overwhelmingly, thinking in terms of "how do I slot this in to a liberal or conservative ideological frame." They're going to be thinking practically about what sorts of factors or conditions lead to disproportionately fewer women founding startups. The reason why this codes as liberal, though, is that the very act of thinking through a question like that with any degree of seriousness (i.e., not just smirking "it's because women are for making babies!") has been coded as something that only liberals do. That, to my mind, is tragic -- but that's not a DEI problem or a NSDA problem, that's a conservative problem. Conservatives absolutely should have thoughts on why there are relatively few women founding startups. They also should have thoughts on questions like "How can the federal government do more to promote Latino/a/x entrepreneurship?" and "How can the US government increase participation rates of gender minorities in STEM fields?" These are important social problems which all of us should be tackling. Perhaps those thoughts will be radically different than what liberals have to say. Perhaps they'll be surprisingly resonant (think about cross-ideological coalitions forming around YIMBY zoning reform, or relaxing occupational licensing requirements). But to the extent that even trying to work through "how can we increase the representation of underrepresented minorities" is viewed as an inherently liberal endeavor; well, I think that's a tragedy.

More broadly: the point, again, of high school debate is not to give teenagers the opportunity to parrot the shibboleths of Democratic or Republican talking heads, and so high school debate does not fail when it forces a student to develop thoughts on a question that Democratic or Republican talking heads don't have thoughts on. So ultimately, I think it's a mistake -- and not reflective of high school debate as I remember it -- to ask whether or not students are presenting "liberal" or "conservative" views on a given question. Overwhelmingly, that entire framework is a projection by adults; it is not the approach taken by the competitors, nor should it be. Institutionally-speaking, debate should be about prompting students to think about interesting questions. The answers we get rarely will fully map on to contemporary political factions -- and that's a very good thing.